Marine Stewardship Council pauses new seafood sustainability standards

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), whose blue label is a global symbol of seafood sustainability, was forced to pause and rewrite its latest fisheries standards less than a year after its launch.

The London-based non-profit organization is responding to complaints from fishing industry groups around the world, including major players in Atlantic Canada, that the new standard is vague and unworkable.

“There have been challenges and that’s why we’re taking the action we’re taking today to ensure clarity. So people can see the level they need to achieve and they can do it efficiently,” said Jay Lugar, MSC’s head of fisheries outreach. Canada.

“We missed the mark on some elements and some clarifications that I think were needed in the third edition of the standard, and that’s why we made this pause,” Lugar said.

The move was greeted with relief by a Canadian industry group representing many Atlantic fisheries, and mocked by an environmental organization.

MSC said it will introduce an updated standard in July and then conduct an independent review of the new evidence requirements, the most controversial element of the new standard.

The previous standard is OK for now

“Among the issues to be addressed is whether the framework can be applied in a more efficient manner, leading to reduced complexity and cost. Input from (NGOs) and industry stakeholders will be sought during the review,” MSC said in a January 31 announcement.

Man sitting in front of webcam.
Jay Lugar is head of fisheries outreach at the Marine Stewardship Council of Canada. (CBC)

Fisheries wishing to recertify will be allowed to use the previous standard for another two years until February 2026, as will new fisheries wishing to enter the MSC programme.

The updated version will be mandatory by 2030.

“We all had big concerns,” said Steve Devitt, director of sustainability at the Atlantic Groundfish Council. They represent five MSC-certified fisheries in the region, including the haddock fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia and the halibut harvest in much of Atlantic Canada.

For example, he said the new requirements cannot be met to prove that damage from ghost equipment is “manifestly absent.”

Confusion about ghost equipment

“How do you prove that? Well, it’s impossible to prove that a loss, or a missing piece of equipment, has no effect. And we don’t know how to do that,” Devitt said.

“This statement in particular concerns us and requires clarification. Are you talking about the equipment itself? Are you saying that there should be no equipment missing?”

Man sitting in front of webcam.
Steve Devitt is the Director of Sustainability at the Atlantic Groundfish Council. (CBC)

Confusion over ghost equipment will be fixed, MSC’s Lugar said.

“This is a specific element that we will certainly address in this revised version,” he said.

Improvements can be made “without modifying the level of sustainability performance,” Lugar said.

“We don’t want to see fisheries leave out of frustration. We want them to keep trying to achieve sustainability outcomes,” he said.

The environmental group rejects the industry’s claims

An environmental group in Halifax said the Marine Stewardship Council has taken a step back.

Shannon Arnold, associate director of marine programs at the Environmental Action Center, rejects the industry’s claims.

Woman and man, wearing waterproof jackets, standing in a boat on the water.
Shannon Arnold, left, is associate director of marine programs at the Environmental Action Center. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

“It’s the requirements that these industry groups complain about the most, like providing better information about what they’re pulling from the water, how they catch fish, what their impacts are on the environment and on endangered species, and showing that they have clear evidence,” Arnold said. “They’re complying with existing rules.” actually”.

“This has been in the works for a decade. You know, it’s no surprise that this is needed and a lot of it can be achieved.”

Questions about the new standard test

The MSC took four years to develop the new standard after what it called “the most comprehensive review in 25 years.”

But Devitt said it was introduced without “rigorous” testing on actual fisheries.

Opinions differ on what happened when a certified Canadian hunter tested under the new standard.

Devitt said he encountered a number of problems under the new rules that “fundamentally caused the overall classification of the fishery to fail.”

Lugar said the test was an inadequate assessment and that the results were “misleading.”

“After further dialogue with the people involved in this test, they realized that it actually worked.”

Neither specified fisheries.

Extension for two years

The two-year extension will allow the offshore lobster fleet to re-certify as a sustainable MSC fishery in 2025 under the older standard.

Jeff Irvine, of the Canadian Lobster Council, said in December that the fishery would not meet the third-party monitoring required in the new standard.

“It’s a gold standard program. But we also know that we may not be able to continue with the MSC program. So we’re looking at other options and there are some active things happening there,” Irvin told CBC News.

Fisheries in Canada and around the world have been left wondering whether they can meet the new 200-page standard as written, Devitt said.

“We are pleased to see that the MSC has recognized that it needs to put a brake on this and think about what the outcome of this could be in the global outlook,” he said.

“If all snapshot fisheries were very high-performing against the gold standard, since the MSC standard is the gold standard for environmental certification of capture fisheries, it would not look good for these fisheries to change dramatically, but rather their performance would change dramatically without any real change in Practice fishing.”

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